It’s beginning to look a lot like one of the most low-key Grand Kadooments ever.
This is the grim outlook from leaders of three top bands, who are all reporting depressed sales, poor sponsorship and a possible reduction in the number of bands taking to the streets for the Crop Over climax.
Veteran costume designer Betty West, whose band this year is called Soca Royalty, told Barbados TODAY this year was the worse she has experienced in 27 years in the business.
“This year everything has been slower. I find that people are a little restless with spending their money and I am experiencing quite a bit of difficulty where sponsorship is concerned,” West said.
“The cost to bring a seven-section band, which caters to 350 people, has gone up from $90,000 to $125,000. I feel that in my 27 years of doing this I have not experienced what I am currently experiencing.”
Just over 20 bands made the journey from the National Stadium last year after popular bands PowerX4 and Ravurz dropped out due to financial constraints.
And, West said, based on the feedback from her fellow bandleaders, others may fall by the wayside.
“It is going to be worse this year as far as I am concerned because from what I understand two bands have dropped out already. This is all because of finances, as well as the fact that the local people are not really coming out. I understand that Foreday Morning bands have dropped significantly as well. So it is really a big challenge for us this year,” she stressed.
The National Cultural Foundation (NCF) has confirmed that 37 bands have registered for this year’s Foreday Morning street party, ten fewer than last year.
Meantime, Anthony Layne, the leader of the popular band Yello Kontact, said the situation was such that if not for revellers from abroad, a lot more bands would have been “dead in the water”.
“What I am hearing from the other bandleaders is that things are pretty tough, and things are pretty tough for us too. The influx of overseas patrons is what is saving the day. Had it not been for the overseas patrons most bands would be dead in water this year. Last year we held our own and this year we expect to do the same, but the truth is that this year is looking worse than last year,” Layne said.
The bandleader blamed the economic downturn and the decision by then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to hold the general election in late May, echoing a complaint by Barbados Association of Masqueraders President Chetwyn Stewart, who told Barbados TODAY last month that the election campaign had sucked the life out of Crop Over.
Like Stewart, Layne also said the July 1 abolishment of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which increased from two per cent to ten per cent last July, came too late to help costume producers this year.
“Taking off the NSRL now is a good thing but it would not help us now. You don’t start preparing for a band in January, we would have started since last year. So therefore, we are still in the red and it is certainly not going to help us in this season, because the NSRL has really affected us,” Layne lamented.
Like the other bandleaders, perennial Band of the Year winner Gwyneth Squires told Barbados TODAY she was hanging on by a thread, and would soon call it quits if business did not improve.
“All of the bandleaders are making a loss and I am still in it because I love it and I was born in it. But I will be soon done with it because it is not going anywhere. I have been losing money for years and you can’t sustain a business on love alone,” Squires said.
The veteran costume producer also said a decision on whether or not to persist in the tough industry would depend on the urgency with which new Minister of Culture John King addresses the bandleaders’ concerns.
“The new minister knows better than us the struggles of industry and he has promised to look after them. We understand that he can’t do it this year because he just got there,” Squires said.
“John is a good man and his heart is in the right place, so I am hoping that he would put things right,” she said, while suggesting that a reduction in the Value Added Tax was a good place for the minister to begin.
NCF Corporate Communications Officer Simone Codrington was unable to say how many bands have registered to date for the Crop Over main event, but promised to provide the information as soon as it becomes available.